As a teacher, I am fully aware of the summer reading decline that affects so many students. In his article "Bridging the Summer Reading Gap," Richard Allington states, "Regardless of other activities, the best predictor of summer loss or summer gain is whether or not a child reads during the summer." In this post I will share the ways I encourage my students to reflect on the year's reading achievements and then to use their reflections as motivation to continue reading over the summer.
But this post is not just about students. Teachers need motivation too! Every year there are things that I want to change in my classroom or ways that I want to alter my curriculum. The summer is the perfect time to reenergize and make concrete plans for next year. In this post I will offer specific tips and suggestions for making this your most productive summer yet!
Numbers 1–4 of this month's top ten list are ideas for helping your students have a productive summer while numbers 5–10 are suggestions for you.
1. Help Your Students Reflect on a Year of Reading
Before students make plans for summer reading, it is important that they first reflect thoughtfully on the reading they have done in your classroom. Last year I wrote a post, "Wrapping Up Reading Workshop: Reflecting Back & Making Summer Reading Plans," about how my students use their Reader’s Notebook to look back on a year’s worth of reading. They love to see the progress they have made, and they use their reading reflections to make specific plans for summer reading. In the post, I created a "Summer Reading Booklet" that your students can use to make plans for summer reading.
2. Create (Cereal) Book Boxes for Summer Reading
If you are like me, you have permanent book boxes in your classroom that students reuse each year. Students grow attached to their book boxes, and it becomes second nature for them to regularly fill their boxes with favorite books, to read books and record them in their reading logs, and to then exchange the books for new ones from the classroom library. My teaching partner and I think that having their own book boxes at home is the best way to make the school-to-home reading transition over the summer successful.
We ask students to bring a large cereal box to school at the end of the year. They cut the top and sides off, cover it with construction paper, and then use photos or computer clip art to decorate their book box. Having a book box at home allows students to easily transport their books when taking summer vacations or long trips in the car. Some of my students even take their book box to the local library when checking out new books.
We also found inexpensive mini notebooks that we give to each student to keep in their book box. We encourage them to use one section of the notebook to record the title and author of the books they read during the summer and another section to write about the books. Students are asked to bring their reading journal back to school in the fall. I create a special certificate for students who write in their journal over the summer, and I write a personal note in the journal to express my admiration for their hard work.
3. Plan a Class Book Swap
Once your students have created their book boxes, they will need books with which to fill it up. In my classroom, each student can bring up to five gently used chapter books to exchange. The number of books a student brings from home is the number of new books he or she may take during the swap. I always order some inexpensive books from Scholastic Book Clubs using my bonus points so there are plenty of options.
Students can add their new books to their book box and take them home to read during the summer. You could even plan a “Read in the Park” get-together where you meet your students at a nearby park for lunch and have them swap books again. Students love to see their teachers during the summer, and it is a great time for the students to bring their summer reading journals and share their progress.
4. Register Your Students for Scholastic’s Summer Reading Challenge
The Scholastic Summer Challenge is a free reading program dedicated to stopping the “summer slide.” Now in its fifth year, the Summer Challenge invites kids to log the minutes they spend reading as they "Read for the World Record." The 20 schools with the most minutes logged will be recognized in the 2012 Scholastic Book of World Records. Kids can participate in weekly challenges, earn digital rewards, enter sweepstakes to win fabulous prizes, find great books to read, and more.
Students can also join reading programs at their local library and bookstores. Summer reading challenges organized by popular bookstore chains include Barnes and Noble's Imagination's Destination and Borders' Kids Reading Challenge.
5. Revamp Your Classroom Library
I get more questions about my classroom library than about any other part of my classroom. I absolutely believe that a successful Reading Workshop would not be possible without an organized, ample classroom library. However, the process of collecting books, leveling the books, organizing books by genre, and labeling book baskets to make books easy to find is a huge undertaking. My classroom library was “born” during the summer many years ago. Whenever I had free time, I would look up book levels on my computer, classify them by genre, add labels, and put them in organized baskets. I actually worked in my basement at home and took books and baskets to my classroom as I finished. You can read my classroom library post from last year, "A Virtual Peek Into My Classroom Library," to learn more about how it is organized and used by students. My Top Teaching colleagues Angela Bunyi and Megan Power have also written great posts about classroom libraries: Angela about organizing an intermediate classroom library, and Megan Power about having a book leveling party.
6. Be a Reader!
Become Familiar With New Children’s Books This Summer
Are you stuck in a rut when it comes to books you use in your classroom? Do you have your “go-to” favorites that you read aloud each year because you know them so well and love them so much? I do! However, I am making a goal for myself to expand my read-aloud repertoire next school year. I want to take time this summer to become familiar with some of the MANY great children’s books published in the past few years.
Some great resources to help you choose new children’s books include the 2010 Newbery and Caldecott winners and the 2011 Newbery and Caldecott winners. My Top Teaching colleague Danielle Mahoney has created some awesome booklists for many months of the school year, including October, November, December, January, March, and April.
Set Professional Reading Goals
While it is important to read children’s books so that you are providing your students with quality literature, I find it equally important to read professional books to grow my teaching expertise. So much of what I know comes from my teaching mentors. Many of those mentors do not know me, but I have read their books from cover to cover, reread their books again, and still refer to many of them to this day. Since it can be hard to find time to read and process professional books about teaching in the middle of a busy school year, I often dedicate time during the summer for professional reading. Check out some of my all-time favorite professional books, as well as some great book recommendations from teachers who read Scholastic's Top Teaching blog. What professional books have helped shape your teaching? Please share them in the comment section below. I am always looking for great texts to improve my teaching!
7. Plan Your Classroom Theme for Next School Year
Many teachers ask questions about my school-year themes. They want to know how I come up with a new theme each year, where I find the time to execute the thematic classroom decor, and how I incorporate the theme into classroom routines and daily happenings. Well, it doesn’t happen in a day! I start thinking about my theme for the next school year before the current school year is even over. In fact, my current students love giving me ideas for new themes and brainstorming names and slogans for my future classroom. I then use the summer to continue thinking about the theme and begin making plans for classroom implementation. I keep my eyes open for sales at party stores, and I peruse the Internet to find ideas related to the theme. By the time school starts, my theme is in full effect, and my thematic classroom is ready to welcome my excited students. You can check out the theme section of my classroom Web site to read more about the themes I have used in past years. You will find many photos, downloadable templates, printables, etc.
8. Execute an Extreme Classroom Makeover!
Every year there are things in my classroom that I want to change. However, the stack of papers I still need to grade, the standardized testing that looms, the weekly lesson planning, the new SMART Board lessons I must create, and daily happenings in my classroom often take precedence over large-scale organizational measures. For that reason, I think of each new school year as a blank slate. No matter how many years I teach, I set a personal goal each school year to become more organized and to make my classroom design most supportive of my teaching and beneficial to student learning. When executing large-scale home renovations, many families actually move out of their homes while the work is being done. Since my students “move out” during the summer, it is really the only time when I can clean out, clean up, and fix up the room.
Check out my extreme classroom makeover video that I created at the beginning of the school year.
I get some of my best ideas from looking at other teachers’ classrooms. For some ideas about classroom design, check out my 2009 classroom tour and view photos of my current classroom. For awesome classroom organization tips, read Angela Bunyi’s post "Getting Organized for Academic Success: Tackling the Paperwork Trail." Books like the Scholastic professional books below, available at the Scholastic Teacher Store, provide photos of creative ways teachers effectively organize and manage students in different classrooms and at different grade levels.
9. Check Out Great Classroom Web Sites
While there are a ton of great “teacher resource” Web sites that provide teachers with printables, lesson plans, books, etc., my favorite Web sites are those created and maintained by practicing teachers. Many of you are familiar with my classroom Web site, but have you visited the classrooms below?
Mr. Coley: This 5th grade teacher is very high tech, and so are his students! His class keeps a daily blog and a Room 34 Book Blog as well. They also have their own podcast, called Coleycast. Recorded by students, each broadcast highlights exciting things they are doing and learning about in their classroom. There are links and lesson ideas for all subject areas. This a "must-visit" site!
Mrs. Renz: This 4th grade teacher has an extensive teacher resource section where you will find links to all of her favorite Web sites for many subject areas and her favorite online teacher tools. She also provides lists of Web sites with great SMART Board files and literacy resources. Perhaps the most fun is looking at her "Student Projects" section with photos and ideas from this school year and previous ones.
Laura Candler: This teacher has been teaching for 29 years and continues to maintain an amazingly comprehensive Web site with teaching resources geared toward the upper grades. You will find tons of free printables in her online file cabinet for all subject areas. She also has a Teaching Strategies section where you can watch Webinars related to Reading and Writing Workshop, math centers, cooperative learning, and classroom management. You must check it out for yourself!
Mrs. Meacham: This 1st grade teacher calls her Web site "Classroom Snapshots." The homepage is an alphabetical index that includes a variety of resources like unit plans for all subject areas, virtual classroom tours from current and previous years, tons of SMART Board files, useful printables, and much more. If you are a K–2 teacher, this Web site is worth your time.
Victoria Jasztal: This former Scholastic online mentor also has an awesome classroom Web site. She has tons of resources for Reading and Writing Workshop as well as math investigations and much more. She also provides another fantastic list of classroom Web sites.
10. Spend Quality Time With Your Family
Of course I will use my summer to plan and prepare for next school year. However, what I cherish most about summer is the uninterrupted, quality time I get to spend with my family. Although I wrote a post last year about balancing motherhood and teaching, it is not always easy during the busy school year. However, the summer is a different story. We already have lots of family trips planned, and I look so forward to days filled with play dates, picnics, swimming, trips to Dairy Queen, and evening walks to the park. There is nothing more “productive” than the time you spend with your family! So, take lots of time this summer to relax and enjoy being with your friends and family. That is my #1 goal for myself!
Happy summer to all! Thanks for reading my blog this year!